Structural basis for membrane attack by defensins

Defensins are small cationic proteins that are involved in innate immune processes in plants as well as humans. In plants, defensins have been shown to deliver significant resistance against plant pathogens such as fungi, however their precise molecular mechanism of action is currently not fully understood. Furthermore, defensins are also able to target cancer cells.

We are currently investigating how defensins are able to attack and perforate cell membranes of pathogens as well as cancer cells. Recognition of phospholipids has been shown to be critical for the ability of defensins to attack target cells, and we are interested in understanding the structural basis for phospholipid recognition as well as membrane attack. Using X-ray crystallography we recently showed that defensins form large oligomeric complexes with phospholipids, thus for the first time shedding light onto the detailed molecular mechanism employed by defensins during innate defence.